A Song for St. Cecilia's Day, 1687

Original Text: 
John Dryden, Poetry, Prose, and Plays, ed. Douglas Grant (Reynard Library edition: Hart-Davis, 1952). PR 3412 G7 1952 ROBA. The base text is in John Dryden's Examen Poeticum (London: J. Tonson, 1693). hob Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
2          This universal frame began.
3     When Nature underneath a heap
4          Of jarring atoms lay,
5     And could not heave her head,
6The tuneful voice was heard from high,
7          Arise ye more than dead.
8Then cold, and hot, and moist, and dry,
9     In order to their stations leap,
10          And music's pow'r obey.
11From harmony, from Heav'nly harmony
12          This universal frame began:
13          From harmony to harmony
14Through all the compass of the notes it ran,
15     The diapason closing full in man.
Stanza ##
16What passion cannot music raise and quell!
17           When Jubal struck the corded shell,
18      His list'ning brethren stood around
19      And wond'ring, on their faces fell
20      To worship that celestial sound:
21Less than a god they thought there could not dwell
22           Within the hollow of that shell
23           That spoke so sweetly and so well.
24What passion cannot music raise and quell!
Stanza ##
25      The trumpet's loud clangor
26           Excites us to arms
27      With shrill notes of anger
28                And mortal alarms.
29      The double double double beat
30           Of the thund'ring drum
31      Cries, hark the foes come;
32Charge, charge, 'tis too late to retreat.
Stanza ##
33      The soft complaining flute
34      In dying notes discovers
35      The woes of hopeless lovers,
36Whose dirge is whisper'd by the warbling lute.
Stanza ##
37      Sharp violins proclaim
38Their jealous pangs, and desperation,
39Fury, frantic indignation,
40Depth of pains and height of passion,
41      For the fair, disdainful dame.
Stanza ##
42But oh! what art can teach
43      What human voice can reach
44The sacred organ's praise?
45Notes inspiring holy love,
46Notes that wing their Heav'nly ways
47      To mend the choirs above.
Stanza ##
48Orpheus could lead the savage race;
49And trees unrooted left their place;
50           Sequacious of the lyre:
51But bright Cecilia rais'd the wonder high'r;
52      When to her organ, vocal breath was giv'n,
53An angel heard, and straight appear'd
54           Mistaking earth for Heav'n.
55As from the pow'r of sacred lays
56      The spheres began to move,
57And sung the great Creator's praise
58      To all the bless'd above;
59So when the last and dreadful hour
60  This crumbling pageant shall devour,
61The trumpet shall be heard on high,
62      The dead shall live, the living die,
63      And music shall untune the sky.


1] The feast-day of St. Cecilia (Nov. 22) commemorated the legend that she invented the organ, and is consequently the patron saint of music, by the performance of formal odes set to music. During the Restoration and eighteenth century, these odes enlisted the services of the best musicians and poets, as well as the lesser. Dryden's Alexander's Feast (1697) is another ode for St. Cecilia's Day. The theme conventionally combines a tribute to the power of music, and a final tribute to the saint, with reference to the legend here given in stanza vii. For the reference to Jubal in stanza ii, see Gen. 5:21. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
G. G. Falle
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.48-50.